Republican leaders in the U.S. Congress over the past couple weeks have set out to cut food stamp benefits by $39 billion, and to tie defunding of the president's signature Affordable Care Act to their approval of the federal government's continuing resolution spending bill.
The two Republican congressmen representing Athens County both supported the cuts to food stamps and also supported defunding so-called Obamacare, though while expressing concerns over tying that to the spending bill.
Both Reps. Bill Johnson of Marietta and Steve Stivers of Columbus voted in favor of the House-passed spending bill last week that sought to keep the government open while defunding Obamacare.
By emphasizing keeping government open, the two distanced themselves from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for instance, who presented the longest filibuster since 1986 on Tuesday and Wednesday arguing that no spending bill should be passed as long as it includes any funding of Obamacare.
In a 230-189 vote, the House sent the spending bill on to the U.S. Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid promised it would be greeted "dead on arrival." The U.S. Senate approved its own spending bill, with Obamacare funding in tact, yesterday (Wednesday).
U.S. Rep. Johnson represents Ohio's 6th Congressional District that includes the two southeastern-most townships in Athens County.
Johnson praised the House-passed version for keeping sequester-level spending in place while defunding the Affordable Care Act.
"In short, this resolution will continue funding the government through mid-December, prevent a government shutdown, and stop Obamacare from being implemented," he said, calling the measure unconventional. "The American people are becoming increasingly concerned about how the president's takeover of America's health-care system will impact their lives."
Johnson claimed, though it hasn't been implemented yet, that Obamacare is reducing access to quality care.
"I will continue to work with my colleagues to repeal and replace Obamacare with market-driven, patient-centered solutions that lower costs and increase access to care," he said.
U.S. Rep. Stivers represents Ohio's 15th Congressional District that includes the remainder of Athens County, including the cities of Nelsonville and Athens.
Stivers also supported the House bill, boasting on his Facebook page that he was able to vote both to keep the government open and defund the ACA.
"I will not shut the government down over Obamacare, but I will continue to work to defund and repeal it," Stivers wrote.
Stivers' 2014 Democratic challenger, Amanda-based pilot Scott Wharton, on his own Facebook page slammed Stivers for being "willing to walk lock-step with the extremists of the Tea Party."
He hit Republicans for proposals to tie defunding to approval of increasing the debt limit.
"The fact that the Republican-controlled House is willing to shut down the government and default on our debts, just to deny 30 million people from getting health insurance, is tragic," he said.
Wharton touted aspects of the act including free preventive care for all, young adults being able to stay on their parents' health plans until age 26, coverage for veterans not covered through Veterans Affairs insurance, and the removal of lifetime limits on insurance company cost coverage.
"The hard-working men and women of the 15th District deserves someone who will work for them, not the corporations, banks, Wall Street and the Tea Party," Wharton said. "I'm the one that will work for you and I need your support."
MEANWHILE, BOTH CONGRESSMEN also voted last week to cut food stamp benefits.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, would sever 3.8 million Americans from the program.
The ultimate fate of this legislation remains uncertain. The Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate has proposed much smaller reductions, and the White House has threatened to veto any large cuts to food stamps.
Around 47 million Americans received SNAP benefits, nearly 15 percent of the population. Since before the 2008 recession, the price tag for food stamps has more than doubled, topping $82.5 billion, according to USA Today.
Republicans blame the program's increasing rolls on lax criteria, rather than need, and their bill would end waivers for states that during the recession allowed nearly 4 million Americans to collect food stamps who otherwise would not have qualified.
In a Facebook post, Rep. Johnson framed his vote in favor of the cut as a vote to restore various requirements put in place in 1996 that were rolled back in part during the recession. The House bill passed 217-210.
"Yesterday, the House took action to ensure that able-bodied adults between the ages of 18-50 receiving food stamps (SNAP benefits) are either employed, in job training, or are performing community service," Johnson wrote. "It's important to ensure that food stamps are available to those Americans that have fallen on hard times, and are actively seeking employment. It's also important to ensure that hard-working taxpayers have the peace of mind of knowing that their tax dollars are being spent responsibly."
Constituent reactions to Johnson's Facebook page were mixed.
"Yes!... Now the lazies has to do something," one replied.
"How about we make Big Business give back their welfare," suggested another.
Still others slammed Johnson for his support of big agriculture farm subsidies that he supported in the Farm Bill earlier this summer.
Stivers also voted in favor of the food program cut. While he didn't post about his vote on Facebook, he did issue a statement on Wednesday saying that he voted to protect children and families receiving food stamps and help individuals who have fallen on hard times get back on their feet.
"The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act requires states to follow the 1996 welfare reform laws signed by President Clinton which require single, able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 50 to show proof of employment, community service or job training in order to receive food stamps," Stivers said. "Additionally, the House bill strengthens the relationship between the SNAP program and school lunch program eligibility - if a child is part of a household enrolled in SNAP, they become eligible for free meals in the school lunch and breakfast programs. We must work to preserve the safety net for the families and children who need it while building a stronger work ethic in this country - the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act does both."
His opponent, Wharton, meanwhile, slammed Republicans for that vote as well.
"The Republicans state that this will encourage people to get off the assistance," he said. "Since the number of unemployed still far outnumber available jobs, why hasn't the Republican-controlled House passed a Jobs Bill? This is why we need to vote out the Republicans in 2014."